What will people think of me?
I’m an idiot. That’s clear. It’s hard to balme them.
What do you think of somebody, who, while sitting at a table in a pizzeria with a group of friends, alienates himself all the time, keeps looking around and gets lost in his own world for a good five minutes fiddling with his napkin, watching spellbound, with a not exactly clever expression, the reflections of the chandelier on his glass? That’s what’s known as a narcoleptic, periodically suffering from autism crisis, drifting in and out of a parallel world, such as The Chronicles of Narnia, with no need of an armoire to disappear.
My wife is used to it. She’s sitting next to me chatting quietly left, right and centre, paying no attention to the thing that vegetatesnear her. If she needs me, she asks. She knows I’m pretty responsive. Within one or two seconds, my brain starts functioning again normally, my eyes tune again in this universe, and I often manage to give sensible answers. Anyway, I became very good at pretending. I have a good supply of ready-made phrases valid for all occasions, such as: “Well, actually…” or “Besides, that’s the way it is…”.
I have lost count of times when I landed too abruptly, without being able to reconstruct the topic of the conversation (maybe that has changed four times since I’ve lost contact with the world), hiding behind a shy and kind smile. It’s a good strategy. When you smile that way, it’s difficult to punch you in the face. At least not at a table in a pizzeria.
After listening to a couple of comments, I guess the tone of the conversation, I sense the general atmosphere, and a few minutes later, I can even come up with what wasn’t such a bad joke. The others laugh, and convince themselves that – come on – basically I’m not doolally. Perhaps a little stupid , but not completely nuts just yet.
In other words, I’m like one of those stubborn fullbacks, full of determination yet not going anywhere near the ball, which just manages to wriggle out of it.
What some people just cannot understand is how someone like me can write books.
They don’t understand that with a job, a family and a few interests, if I manage to do it, it‘s because I don’t write only when, in the silence of my room, I’m sitting at the computer, but I do it often, very often, even inside my head, even in the midst of mess or at the table of a pizzeria, during a chat about how much weight that actress put on and the arrival of my smoked cheese-and speck pizza. I follow my stories, I stir them again and again, like flour and water in the cauldron that, little by little, turn into polenta. A beautiful yellow and steaming sun would never rise on a wooden cutting board if it hadn’t been long and lovingly stirred in a copper pot. And so do I, every now and then, cross the border and into the secret room I have inside my head, where I treasure stories.
There are plenty of shelves stacked with many stories; most of them I don’t even know they are there. I memorized them without even realising it. These are all the stories I’ve read in books, seen in movies, listened from the voices of a thousand people I have come across in my life. Nothing gets lost, not even what it seemed to be forgotten, not even what I don’t know where is coming from and how it ended there, on those shelves. It’s a huge archive from which you can pull out anything. Like a huge box containing plenty unpaired Lego pieces, coming from dozens of different boxes and packages. Once they used to be airplanes, ships, cars, houses, bulldozers and tanks. Now it’s all mixed together. It is difficult to find the necessary pieces to assemble in that mess, such as a Star War spaceship, but I don’t care. I’m not recorded history repeating what it heard. I am a writer. I make full use of the pieces in that chaos to build a new spaceship. A toy spaceshipwith car wheels that become laser cannons and the window of a townhouse in place of the cockpit, a race car with fighter-bomber ailerons, or a small house with no door, which you access through a trapdoor on the roof.
Will it be because of this frequent and underlying strain, that I forget dates and birthdays, umbrellas and medical examinations, I dramatically skip motorway exits and, sometimes, like a water diviner, and keys in hand, I keep searching for the place where I parked my car?
It’s either because of that or perhaps these are the first symptoms of Alzheimer’s. Who knows?
I’m not really happy. Sometimes, I would also like to be efficient, to master situations, to be better organized, careful, with everything under control.
For instance, look at the husband of my wife’s friend sitting in front of me. He holds the stage, knows everything and when he doesn’t know something… he knows it all the same!
He’s an accountant, he’s got a BMW, an Iphone, he plays table football (of course I’m useless at table football, but what’s the point in telling you?). He’s well connected in the whole town, he’s about to enter politics (his talks about holidays sound like political rallies anyway). When he was told that I write, the only thing he was interested in asking was: “Do you earn good money?”.
Once he realised that I don’t earn a penny, he removed me from his field of vision, as if he’d suddenly have the Grand Canyon’s terrace in front of him.
You can bet he’s never been caught with a stupid expression, lost in his own thoughts, that he has no time to waste in thinking for an hour about whether the protagonist of the novel should be 13 or 15 years old, with all the narrative pros and cons of this choice (the language, the point of view, the freedom of actions will all be different). He never skips the motorway exists: besides, his BMW certainly has a built-in satellite navigation system.
What I’m saying is that I wouldn’t like to be exactly like him, because I’ve never bonded with people like him, but I would at least have had a slice of the efficiency and control he seems to have on his life and on the world around him.
Basically I’d like to be less rambling.
Pizzas arrive. His one is obviously the first. He begins eating it, without waiting for the others, of course, “otherwise it gets cold.”
My pizza is the last, obviously. Only after a shy attempt, I managed to attract the attention of the waiter who, compassionately pleads my case with the pizza-maker, apologizes for the delay, and brings me a smoked cheese and salmon one instead of the smoked cheese and speck which I had originally ordered.
Since it’s late and I hate making others wait, I take it without any hesitation. I even thank the waiter for his careless interest and I try to eat it at supersonic speed, burning my tongue and getting my shirt dirty. All of that with just one bite.
The accountant, who has already finished his pizza, is now sipping an amaro made of height hundred different herbs, probably the most stinking of the planet, that corrupts the surrounding environment by changing the flavour of what I eat (pizza scamorza, salmon and ginseng?). His mind is attentive to detail and he remembers perfectly that I had ordered something different, and asks me: “Why are you eating that crap that is not what you asked for?”. He obviously says it in a tone of voice loud enough to make the story interesting even to the guy watching over the cars in the parking lot. I assure him that it doesn’t matter, that I like it this way. However, not only does my face blush in shame, but also my jacket’s cuffs. All in all, I don’t appear very credible.
Here comes the bill. The accountant gets hold of it, announcing the total to everybody. He encourages everyone to “fork out their share”. I attempt a mental calculation although I’ve always been useless at maths (almost worse that at table football) but the accountant beats everyone to the punch by dividing the total using his Iphone calculator.
We pay, get the bags and the jackets back, and greet the others moving towards the exit. Then each of us goes to get their own car.
I try to pull out my keys.
My wife shakes her head, resigned. She grabs me by the arm and, without saying a word, pushes me in the opposite direction, guiding me to where we parked with no hesitation.
On the way home, I feel a little depressed.
“What kind of man is Claudia ‘s husband?” my wife says at a certain point.
Claudia ‘s husband is an accountant.
“One of those people who always have everything under control, ehi?” I reply, feeling rather subdued.
She looks at me with surprise.
“Is everything under control? What are you saying! Everyone knows he went bankrupt a couple of times and isn’t actually an accountant! Even his car isn’t really his car; they had to put it in Claudia’s name so it wouldn’t be repossessed. Poor girl. He’s a kept man. I never understood why she doesn’t tell him to go to hell”.
In the semi-darkness of the car, as we pass through the alleys of the deserted city which is now almost completely asleep, big and, frankly, a little wicked smile appeared on my face.
It remains there, lingering for a few minutes.
Until my wife, speaking in a neutral tone of voice, without even sighing, tells me that I’ve just missed the junction leading home.
Translation by Matteo Ciucci (edited by Sabrina Macchi)
 Speck: it is a type of Italian smoked ham
 Polenta: corn flour mush
 It’s an after lunch or dinner liqueur with a distinctively bitter taste. If you order an “amaro” in an Italian bar they will ask you “which one would you like?” and then you have to say the name of the liquor you want.